UH rallies to win
DALLAS – Fans call them the "Cardiac Coogs" for a reason.
For the second consecutive game, Houston needed a stunning second-half comeback to put away a sub-par opponent. This time it came against Southern Methodist in a 44-38 win before a crowd of 18,972 on Saturday night at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
The Cougars (4-3, 3-0 Conference USA) trailed 35-23 entering the fourth quarter, but outscored the hapless Mustangs 21-3 the rest of the way to escape with their third consecutive win.
Sophomore quarterback Case Keenum (career-high 404 passing yards, two touchdowns, one rushing touchdown) orchestrated the rally and capped it with a game-winning 26-yard touchdown strike to redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyron Carrier with 24 seconds remaining. Freshman running back Bryce Beall rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns, including one that pulled the Cougars within 38-36 with 2:34 remaining.
Houston’s defense was pushed around much of the night, but provided crucial stops on the Mustangs’ final three drives to keep the Cougars’ hopes alive. The Cougars held SMU (1-7, 0-5 C-USA) to a field goal with 4:55 left to stay within 8 points and forced the Mustangs into a three-and-out two drives later to give themselves a shot at a miraculous comeback with 1:58 remaining.
Junior cornerback Brandon Brinkley sealed the win by intercepting a Hail Mary pass from SMU freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell in the end zone on the game’s final play.
"Our guys kept fighting," Cougar head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "I thought we came out in the second half, and we made some adjustments to their blitzes on offense. The last two series of the game, I thought there were some big plays made."
All this came just over a week after the Cougars scored 42 unanswered second-half points in a 45-20 come-from-behind win over lowly Alabama-Birmingham.
This one, however, required a lot more effort and game-changing plays down the stretch against an overmatched SMU squad that saw its losing streak extended to six games.
"It’s getting real old," Carrier said. "We need to come out and jump out on people. I don’t know what the problem is. Sometimes, we just shoot ourselves in the foot in the first half, and then we start to pick it up in the second. We need to start fast."
The Mustangs, on the other hand, wasted little time in getting off to a strong start behind Mitchell, who scorched the Cougars’ secondary for 365 passing yards and four touchdowns to go along with a rushing touchdown. Mitchell, a product of Katy High School, propelled the Mustangs to a 14-0 first-quarter lead with a 17-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and a 4-yard touchdown run.
The Cougars reduced that lead to 14-7 when Keenum hit freshman wide receiver Patrick Edwards for a 29-yard touchdown pass on the next drive, but Mitchell found Sanders again on a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-7 with 8:35 left in the first half. The Cougars got their final points of that half when Beall scored on a 5-yard drive with 2:17.
Mitchell lit up the scoreboard in the third quarter with two more touchdown passes to sophomore wideout Aldrick Robinson, but the Cougars answered with a touchdown run from Beall and a 23-yard field goal from junior Ben Bell to keep it close heading into the fourth quarter.
Suddenly, the defense came alive and started to put the heat on Mitchell, throwing him off balance.
The defense made its biggest play after Beall’s final touchdown run pulled the Cougars within two. The Mustangs opted to pass on third-and-4 from their 34, but came up empty when Brinkley swatted away Mitchell’s pass intended for freshman wideout Terrance Wilkerson.
"It was a big play," said senior defensive end Phillip Hunt, who had two sacks and a forced fumble. "We knew that they were going to pass it, so we just gave them a great pass rush, kept pressure on them, and our guys came up and made great plays."
After SMU’s punt, the Cougars took over at their 15 with 1:58 remaining. Keenum took care of the rest, moving them 85 yards in eight plays and finishing the deal with a towering 26-yard pass to Carrier. Keenum then hit senior tight end Mark Hafner (10 catches, career-high 160 yards) for a 2-point conversion to put the Cougars ahead by 6.
"That’s one of those deals where I can just throw it out there, and he’ll go run and get it," Keenum said of his throw to Carrier. "It seems as if no matter how far I throw it out there, we’ve got a lot of fast guys who can do that. It just so happened that we had an opportunity there, and we took it and executed to make the play."